From 30,000 feet up you canít discern Eliot
Spitzer from all the pundits analyzing him. Flying above
the New York clouds you canít see the ex-Governor, or for
that matter anyone walking down on Earth. When you climb
high enough the matters of the world donít seem to make
that much difference, and no one seems to really care about
the trivialities of lifeís follies. Do the birds in the
sky know or care about our comings and goings? The wise
Solomon said it long ago: ďA generation comes, a generation
goes, and there is nothing new under the sun.Ē
But Iím told that there is a place a bit higher in heaven
where it does make a difference,and someone does care. ďUnder the sunĒ nothing
is new; but above the sun Ė ahh, there is much news.
These are some of the thoughts fleeting through my mind as
I fly from New York to Israel and think about the earth below. Corruption,
greed, self interest, self destruction – and the soap opera that it all turns
into in our overdosed media age. We love the drama: A relentless prosecutor
getting caught in his own prosecutor’s net. Great TV. Entertainment, rise
and fall, politics, sexuality – all the components of a blockbuster, that
has everybody buzzing and glued to the endless stream of experts being
marched on our screens.
From time to time it’s good to get away from it all. But
then just as you thought you were out, they pull you right back in…
You canít remain in the skies forever. The plane, after
all, does have to land. Even birds need to rest in their nests.
So, what do you do then; what happens when you come back
to the ground? – that is the big question. It’s easy, relatively at
least, to escape to the heavens. Can we however maintain our integrity
down on earth? The prospect can be quite daunting if not downright depressing.
And so, as El Al flight 28 soars east and the sun sets
faster than usual, I think it’s a good idea to peer above the sun, and see
what the angels have to say from “behind the curtain.” I don’t believe
we can get the pilot to fly any higher; as it is they’re ordering us to “fasten
our seatbelts.” So, I guess we are left with no other choice but to lift ourselves
A faint but distinct voice can be detected saying: “Torah
is not in heaven,” Torah is on earth. Look into the Torah which you have down
below, and you will find your answers.
This week we begin reading the third book of the Torah: Vayikra,
Leviticus. Being the Shabbat before Purim, we also read an additional special
chapter called Parshat Zachor. Zachor means remember, referring to the opening
verse of this chapter: Remember what Amalek did to you. During the Persian
rule, Haman, just like his ancestor Amalek, wanted to exterminate the
Jewish people. We therefore read this chapter as a prelude to celebrating
Purim, when Haman’s genocide plot was foiled. Yet, being that the Shabbat
and the Parsha are both called by the one-word name Zachor, we can
derive profound lessons from the very concept of remembering.
Remembering emphasizes two opposites: To remember exposes
the sad fact that something vital was forgotten. Simultaneously it offers
us hope and redemption: That despite our lapses we can retrieve and reconnect
to a past long forgotten. Though we may have wandered away from, and even
betrayed, our true selves, we remember – we access the source that was concealed,
we connect to the way things were and to the way they ought to be.
There are many important things that are good to remember.
But above all, the gift of memory is the ability to reclaim our true identities
– something that often gets drowned out in the shuffle of our daily routines
and struggles for survival.
I look out the window and see a distant land below. The map
tells us that we have just flown over England. Then France, Belgium, Germany,
Austria, Italy, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Greece… How much history is etched
in each of these countries? How much suffering and blood is absorbed in their
earth and rivers? And here we are, whizzing by these nations from above, hardly
able to distinguish between one country and the next. Yet, we remember. Zachor
compels us to remember.
It feels good to sit up here perched in the heavens; it allows
in a fresh perspective, which is somehow difficult to grasp when you are on
the ground. It allows you to see the insignificance of so many things we think
are important. Yes, all these mighty nations are just a speck in the scheme
And when we come back down to earth what do we do to maintain
perspective: Zachor - We remember.
What do we remember? We remember that we have a better
self that lies in wait -- waiting to be set free.
In a fascinating elucidation on the theme of the book of Leviticus, the Shaloh
explains that all the chapters of this book offer us a blueprint
how to repair the rift between our present lives and the
potential that we all contain; how to return to our quintessential
Existence is comprised of space, time and spirit (being).
Initially, at the point of creation, all three were transparent channels of
Divine energy. All of space, every corner, was filled with sublime presence.
All of time, every moment, was cognizant of sanctity. All beings, man and
woman, were connected to their source and purpose. The body of space, time
and man were all one with their souls. All was seamless – form and function,
matter and spirit, body and soul.
Then, when man for the very first time defied his Creator,
a major deviation took place: The entire universe shifted off center and lost
focus, the body of time space and man became misaligned from its source. When
a machine no longer follows its engineer’s instructions, it will ultimately
lose its direction, to the point of causing itself damage. Take health as
a case in point: Illness and disease is a result of something (diet, lack
of exercise, toxins) impeding the flow of life energy into the body’s cells.
Thus, the Shaloh explains, the need for the book of Vayikra to help us realign
ourselves. When man was a transparent channel of the Divine
Image he did not need to bring an offering to G-d to get
closer (korbon from the word kiruv) to
the Divine; he himself was an offering.
No individual or group had to be designated as “holy
priests;” all were priests. When time was aligned
it did not require the sanctification of certain days as
holy; all of time was holy. When space was centered, no
particular space needed to be sanctified; all of space was
But now, man must bring an offering and sanctify time and
space – as discussed at length in the book of Vayikra. And this work prepares
the world to realize its ultimate purpose, when time, space and man will reconnect
with their source and once again be a channel for the Divine, but this time
the universe will be a permanent home for G-d.
Leviticus in effect is the ultimate act of remembering –
reconnecting our present lives on Earth to the way it was meant to be lived;
realigning the universe with its purpose.
As we read Shabbos Zachor let us not forget to remember.
As you find yourself traversing the earth and repeatedly encountering the
lowly earthiness of life, remember – Zachor – that you come from a greater
place, you originate from a higher plane.
Lofty thoughts from on high. But then I am rudely reminded
of our cramped space and recycled air (not to mention the meals) in this man-made
plane. We learned how to build flying machines, but I guess we really will
never master the skies. It’s hard to imagine that soaring birds are feeling
Itís not all sad, however. Up here we can gain some perspective
Ė to see things the way they really are and to remember how they should be.
But in the final analysis, the challenge is how to remain
true to ourselves on earth. The Torah, given specifically down below, where
there is “nothing new under the sun,” allows us to soar above and beyond the
sun, taking us to unprecedented places where there is newness, change and
And to places that help us remember.